A strong painkiller is being developed which has the benefits of morphine without the risk of addiction.

Morphine and other opioids like oxycodone, buprenorphine and fentanyl are strong and effective painkillers. However, these prescription drugs come with the risk of users becoming dependent, particularly if taken long-term.

French scientists looking for an alternative are investigating the benefits of using opiorphin, a natural peptide produced by our bodies – as medication for those needing pain relief. The research team looking into the issue believe it could be less dangerous than using morphine as there are not the same risks of addiction.

Opiorphin also doesn’t have the same potential side-effects of morphine which can include constipation and even respiratory failure, according to research published in the journal Anesthesiology. It only acts on areas of the body where there is pain whereas morphine fixes to multiple receptors, increasing the risk of ill effects.

Molecules occur naturally in the body

The peptide – which is a compound of amino acids linked in a chain – also have no negative impact on enkephalins, which are natural pain relief produced by the body.

Dr Philippe Sitbon, based at Paris-Sud University, said: “Relieving pain after surgery is as essential as it is delicate. Morphine and its derivatives are the most powerful painkillers used today, but tolerance can set in quickly.

“A classic solution is to increase the dosage and therefore the side effects associated with the drug, like serious breathing problems that can lead to death, confusion, somnolence, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

“Opiorphin and its stable form STR-324, which will be developed in humans and shows the same analgesic properties, represents a new class of potent and safe painkiller.”

The first medical trials involving STR-324, the stable form of opiorphin, will begin at the end of this year.

Although morphine is a legal prescription drug, it is often misused by addicts and is sold to users on the black market. AlphaBiolabs offers a range of drugs tests which can detect the presence of morphine as well as other prescription medicines including anti-anxiety drugs, steroids and other painkillers.